Before we announce the winners of the 2011 My Theatre Awards, we’re proud to present the My Theatre Nominee Interview Series.
Evan Sanderson‘s award-winning play Fallujah, a visceral and imaginative exploration of mental health among soldiers in the Iraq war, has played to audiences across the country and garnered 7 My Theatre Award nominations this year including Best Actor-Alex Mandell, Best Supporting Actor- Matt Ketai, Best Director- Jason King Jones, Best Ensemble, Best New Work and Best Production. The surprisingly funny and deeply affecting production featured only one woman in its 5-person cast; that was Marion Le Coguic, a refreshingly candid recent BU graduate, remarkably grounded actress and Best Actress nominee for her role in Fallujah. Marion also caught our eye with her strong performance as Hamlet and directing Agamemnon as part of a thesis project double bill in her final semester. Now working and acting in NYC, Marion took some time to reflect back on her final BU performances.
Can you remember your first experience with theatre?
Oh my god, the very very first one? Okay, we’re not gonna count school performances in France- I don’t think that would count because they weren’t really plays. I think the first one would have to be when I was about 8, I was in third grade- maybe even before then, I had short hair. I don’t remember if I spoke English fluently by then but I had just moved to the States- My mom used to own restaurants and most of her employees, low and behold, were actors. And they were in a play, a bunch of them were part of this one little theatre company. One of the waitresses came up to my mom and said “we really need a little girl to say 2 lines. We can’t find anybody, there isn’t anybody in our cast who looks young enough to do it. Do you think Marion maybe would like to?”. So my mom said “let me ask her, she might, she might not”, so she asked me and I said yes because, in my head, I imagined it in front of thousands of people and that I was going to poke my head between these giant red curtains and say my one line, and then put my head back behind the curtain- that’s what I thought it would be. Then I got there and that wasn’t the case. It was off off off off off Broadway in a tiny little black box where the set was completely interchangeable and it happened just like boom boom boom boom, wham bam, thank you, ma’am, this little rehearsal process- they just put me in there. And I think maybe during one of the performances I even came out too early or something. Anyway, didn’t matter, the actors knew what they were doing and were like “oh, this poor little 8 year old child; get off stage, it’s not your time to come on”. I remember staying for a couple acts afterwards because they were a couple short plays and I remember sitting in the audience and watching these waiters and waitresses who I knew pretty well, because I would be at the restaurant all the time, I remember watching them and being like “wow! they do this too!” and it was me watching them becoming other people and I sat there and memorized their monologues from watching them doing it so often. That was my first theatre experience. And I don’t know if it hit me at that point “this is what I want to do”, that was really really gradual, but I remember it really really clearly, like a movie in my head. And there was this one cast member that I became really good “friends” with, because when I walked on stage I came to get her- she was supposed to be a younger girl as well. Anyway, I’m rambling, but that’s it *laughs*, that’s my first theatre experience.
Who are some of the actors who’ve always inspired you and are they the same today?
They are not the same today, that’s changed over the years. And that’s always such a hard question to answer… every time I try to answer this question I try and come up with something not everyone will say. But there’s a reason so many of us young actors come up with the same people… those being Daniel Day Lewis and Meryl Streep, Robert Downey Jr, all of those guys. There’s just something in particular about Daniel Day Lewis that I really admire, which is that he manages to really REALLY lead his own life- he didn’t start making movies until, not late, per se, but he stays out of the spotlight, he manages to do that fantastically and also makes fantastic movies. So I want to be an actor/hermit like Daniel Day Lewis. That’s what I’d really like to do.
Then there’s also French actors who I’m just in complete awe of. Jean Dujardin, I remember him when he was not big at all and he started doing this 2-5 minute segment on Tuesday evenings with his wife on a French channel- it was hilarious, you’d just be like pissing your pants laughing, every single time, because it was hilarious. That’s, honestly, something that I don’t find as often in American actors is the ability to go from comedy to drama so flawlessly. A lot of French actors have that, it’s pretty mind-blowing actually. The array, the range of work they can do is phenomenal. Daniel Auteuil is probably one of my favourite ones. I love Marion Cotillard, obviously, she should do more comedy, I think.
How did you end up working on Fallujah?
I was cast in it, basically. That’s pretty much it. I was called back to audition for it that first quarter of my senior year. I mean, I read the scene and was like “oh, this is me when I’m 40 years old if I were working for the NY Times and bitter and single” so the words came out of my mouth pretty easily. But that was basically it, I was cast. Jason [King Jones, the director] and Evan [Sanderson, the writer] chose me, basically.
It’s such a testosterone-driven piece, what was it like being the only girl?
You know? You know! I had to… *laughs* God, that’s so funny. Being the only girl was fucking awesome and there were very few times… it was just that there were moments that were lost on me, moments that I couldn’t participate in, really. The way they would climb around the cage all the time. I’m still, to this day, really jealous that they got to do all that stuff all the time and I just couldn’t, because that wasn’t part of my role. That seems like a silly thing, but it’s true. And when we weren’t on stage sometimes there would be… once, we were running lines, we were trying to speed run through the entire show- and every time we would try to do that we would just fail miserably because we’re just a bunch of goofs- and I don’t remember what Alex [Mandell, playing “The Journalist”] or Andrew [Mayer, playing one of the Marines] said, but I was just like “you guys! Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a fucking girl around you?” I just snapped. And Alex was like [in a baby voice] “awwww, we’re sorry!”. But it was mostly just a humbling experience, it really really was. I’m the kind of girl who usually has a lot of trouble admitting that I am a girl- I was a tomboy for a big part of my life, I didn’t like girls for a big part of my life. Still, I just find girls annoying; there are things that girls do that I wish I didn’t do and I completely understand why dudes think girls are crazy sometimes- it was… I don’t want to say “put me back in my place”, because that’s just not… I know a lot of girls and women who would fiercely disagree with that statement. But, for me, it really was kind of like putting me back in my place. It was like “Marion, you’re a girl and there’s certain things and certain jokes that you just won’t be a part of. And you just have to accept that”. And I did and I loved it. They all just sort of became “my boys”. Even Jason, GOD, the five of them, sometimes it was just like “ahh, okay, I am woman, I’m just gonna sit back and let the men do their thing”. I loved it, I really did.
Originating a role in such a timely piece, what sort of research did you do to prepare?
The first draft of it, my character was a woman named Laura who was 40 years old and worked for the NY Times. It wasn’t Penny at all, AT ALL. My role was entirely re-written. So was Alex’s, actually. Both of our roles were entirely re-written, so we had to be completely new people. For Penny… I think all of us did really similar research- there was a lot of blog reading, soldiers keep up blogs and stuff. So it was like “okay, how do bloggers keep up over there? How do they get on a computer regularly? Or do they record themselves speaking and then do it later? Do they transcribe?”- which is how I imagine that Penny and… does “Journalist” even have a name? That never even came up. But that’s how Penny and the Journalist did it- he would send the tapes back to me and I would transcribe them. So it would be me listening to those tapes.
A lot of blog reading, and just going back in time, newspaper articles, things like that, seeing if there were any young people blogging about the war- which, most of them turned out to be soldiers themselves, over there, and a couple really enthusiastic kids, like Evan himself, actually.
The show’s won tons of awards and toured- you’ve played in New York and at the Kennedy Center- what’s that been like? Has it been overwhelming?
The entire cast and crew, all of us were so welded together on this project and we all felt really good about it. We knew we had a killer, fucking, show. And we knew that we had a message to send, and we knew that people would get it. They would get it and they would take it in or they would get it and chose not to take it in; whatever it was, it would reach people. So, going to Fitchburg, then doing it at InCite, then doing it at the Kennedy Center- it wasn’t overwhelming, it was a huge honour.
The most overwhelming moment was at the Kennedy Center, after both performances- and this had never happened to me before and even if it never happens to me again, I’m so grateful I got to experience this- we knew the show had gone well, but then we stepped into the darkness when the show was over and the lights barely begin to come up and everybody just rises with the lights- we’re talking like 600 people in this audience- every single person was standing up and cheering and I don’t think a bigger smile has spread across my face. That was overwhelming, in the sense of welling up with something, I guess.
Can you talk a bit about the rehearsal process and working with Jason?
From the beginning, Jason knew what he was taking on and he knew how important it was. And at first it was like “all right…”- and I’m talking “at first” like At First, before Evan had rewritten Alex and my roles-, he was like “okay, let’s read this once or twice and we’re gonna come in next time and we’re gonna, you know what? Do it on your feet”. Or, actually, before that we had one improvisation, and he said “bring everything in this room you possibly can and let’s all play together”. This was after we had read the play once through so we sort of got a feel for the relationships we had with each other and then we started to play… Sorry, I’m just remembering that first day, that was fun *laughs*. So we had that one day of full improv, play with props and do whatever, letting our imaginations go wild. And that was also for Jason to see, “all right, what is welling up out of these kids and what can I take from this one improv? If anything, if nothing at all, that’s fine too”.
That’s something I loved about Jason, that he was like “let’s try it, just try it“, even if it was, say, an idea of mine that I wanted to try and I said it out loud and he didn’t totally agree with it, he might go “yeah, try it”, if we had enough time, he’d be like “yeah, go ahead” and then he would say “hmm” either like “yeah that’s great” or “I’m not really sure if it works” and that was completely fine.
It was really creative- I mean, Jason is A Director- oh, god, phenomenal! He knows what he wants and what he doesn’t want and if he doesn’t know what he wants, he knows that at least. So that was always refreshing. He was really particular about “do this, do this, do this”, really great about revving us up, Really Really amazing at positive reinforcement and constructive criticism and simple notes, simple things that we could work on, really quick, straight-forward, to-the-point. He’s an extremely refreshing personality to have around. Really domineering, which some people might have a problem with, but I’ll use the word “refreshing” again, that was refreshing for me. That’s what working with Jason as a director was like.
I also saw you play Hamlet in the spring. Did it factor into your performance at all that it was an iconic male role?
YES! Oh My God *laughs*. Oh God, Yes it did. But at the end of the day I played my Hamlet. It factored in, in the sense that I knew that this role I was playing was Hamlet. I mean, it’s HAMLET, possibly one of the biggest, most important roles ever written in history, just bottom line.
The fact that it was a male role? Not necessarily so much, actually. Again, because, for me, I’m always sort of seeing myself as sort of, not really androgynous because if I said that I think most people would laugh, but I think it’s safe to say I did play Hamlet as androgynous, though. I didn’t make it a he or a she, because Hamlet has been taken on by men and women alike before me. And I think, at the end of the day, Hamlet just becomes this essence, because I think there are lots of feminine parts of Hamlet, lots of them- he’s so annoying, God! SEE! See? The way I talk about women?
It’s okay, I do it too.
*laughs* High Five! *laughs*
But, yeah, I think that was the most nerve-wracking part for me, that I knew the weight of the role I was taking on and my entire body was buzzing before the first performance. I think that was the most nervous I’ve ever ever ever been before going on stage. Also knowing that my Acting major friends had done all this Shakespeare work, blah, blah blah. So, yeah, I would say it effected me, but then I sort of just diffused it and I used it, actually, in the performance, if anything.
As part of the same double bill you directed a new take on Agamemnon as part of your thesis project. What were some of your major influences, working on that?
I want to specify, first, that I didn’t write it. Charles Mee wrote it, and I cut it, severely, down to probably a half hour. And because of the cast size- my cast was much smaller than what the original play actually called for- I had to create this convention that these four characters- storytellers, so to speak- who start out playing what are actually tarot cards around a table, tell a story every night and the story of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra is a story that happens to come up a LOT. Why? They don’t necessarily know, but it’s because some lesson from that particular story hasn’t been learned yet.
I learned a lot from Jason, actually. Being directed by Jason really helped me. And junior year I assistant directed on Twelve Angry Men, which also really helped me- just to see how to talk to my actors. We also have this class called The Director’s Project in which Theatre Arts majors direct little scenes and we are, in turn, directed in little scenes. So, it really helps one figure out one’s actor-director relationship and it helped me, for example when I’m an actor, learn how to act with a director, how to behave, rather, with a director. And, for me being on the other side of the table, the director business… we also, during the second semester of our senior year, any Theatre Arts major who was directing a thesis had to take a class with Elaine Van Hogue, which at first I was really angry about because I had completed all my directing credits, then it was explained to me that it was specifically to help us develop out theses. And thank god for that class because I got so much of my frustration out. She was a big influence in the sense that she helped me realize that as a director you can use your actor self, and I was under the impression that there had to be these two completely different hats- which is completely not true. There’s a lot, just like an actor uses a lot of him or herself in performance, as a director, there is so much of yourself that you are going to use. And for some reason I was having so much trouble putting two and two together. I remember her saying to me “you are sitting on so much anger, I can tell, you have a well of rage under you that, if you manage to use it properly, will really help you in the room”.
I think, honestly, just watching other shows, as well. Formulating my own opinion. Looking at everything objectively and thinking “okay, what were the director’s choices here?” And just, honestly, actually, not to scratch everything I just said, but, simply put, the biggest influence on me directing my thesis was paying attention to how I was being directed in previous performances- that was really important to me because the director-actor relationship is very important to me.
Is that why you did Theatre Arts instead of Acting?
Yes. I know that acting is my primary field right now, although I discovered in Theatre Arts that directing is something I like to do as well. The reason I chose Theatre Arts is that it allowed me to choose the way in which I was going to get to where I am today. And, for me, that was really important because my way of learning how to act meant that I wanted to learn how to playwright, I wanted to learn how to direct. In order to act properly on stage I need to see it from every single angle. I need to know what dramaturgy is like, I need to know how to read a play really really in depth. I think it just comes down to, for me, acting isn’t always just being on stage all the time.
Do you have any dream roles you’re itching to play?
YES! *laughs*. Okay, I’ve answered this question before so this is a little easier. Ouisa from Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare and Trevor from Roadkill Confidential by Sheila Callaghan- I read that play and I said “that is me”. What else? I would love to play something like what Toni Collette does in United States of Tara.
Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Yeah. Because that’s kind of what acting is, honestly, having to turn it on and off like that. Especially doing film, I imagine. Though I haven’t filmed too many things nor anything particularly emotionally demanding as of yet.
Who are some of the people you’ve loved working with in your time at CFA?
[whistles]. In productions, specifically? Okay, okay… I have to say, when I was a teaching assistant for Voice & Speech: One. The last semester I was in school, I was a TA for Paula Langton‘s freshman Voice & Speech class. For me, going back to the basics is a really big deal; and that’s what that was like for me. Because a lot of the things we do in that class, for me, after four years, I sort of just berated myself “I should know how to do this, I should be able to do this properly, or somewhat properly at least”. But the point is that sometimes that’s not the case and sometimes it is about going back to basics and how important that is. In yoga it’s called “beginner’s mind on the mat”- it doesn’t matter how experienced you are, “beginner’s mind on the mat”.
And there was a moment where- I don’t particularly remember what we were doing but I think we had just finished doing “life rivers”, which I can’t even get into [explaining] right now, it’s too complicated- Paula had said “this is the kind of theatre that I live to see” and that was a big waking moment for me because it’s not crazy big production, THEATRE or whatever. It’s just a bunch of people in a room doing what they love, teaching each other and being a really great support system for each other. Which is sort of what I’m starting to do with friends of mine from my class who are here in New York City, we’re slowly starting to get together and be like “we have no artistic outlet whatsoever right now, how can we change that?”. So we’re gonna make little theatre on the streets of New York. Little things like that that feed the soul. Those were just moments that I cherish a lot.
I remember one time in class we all got there and Paula was late, I mean we’re talking a half hour late. And, as the TA, I was like “listen, I really don’t know what to tell you guys. Personally, if she’s not here in 5 minutes, I’m walking out, because I could be doing something else right now. The least she could do was let us know”. Then she walks in, so downtrodden, completely just so tired, so sad looking. And that’s when she announces to us- I don’t remember what it was about but it was this really heavy news… it might have been regarding Jon Lipsky, actually, who died around March. But the point is that she was in no mood to be in school whatsoever, she could have really just stayed home and not taught at all. But she said “this is what he would have done, this is what he would have wanted me to do; so I’m here, I’m here for you. I’m here because I love to do this and I know that you want this”. And that was like a huge slap in the face for me, and a great slap in the face for what I’d told the freshmen literally 5 minutes before. As she walked out, saying “I’m just gonna go wash up, I’ll be right back”, I said “guys, completely scratch what I said, don’t listen to that. Because the point is, you show up. You just show up and then you do the work. It doesn’t really matter if you want to or not”. We can leave it at that.
You graduated in May, what are you up to now?
Well, I’m babysitting to support myself, mostly. I’m looking for a hostessing job. I’ve been on a couple auditions. I was in Blood Manor, which is New York City’s top haunted house attraction- I was very very happy about that, that ran the whole month of October and it went up again the weekend before Valentine’s Day for Bloody Valentine. So I’ve been doing a couple things but being broke most of the time is really really hard. It’s tough. And, as an actor, it doesn’t really allow you to do as much as you would think, actually, it’s kind of crazy. You’d think “why do you need money to go on auditions?”. Well, let’s see, hmm, you need money to print your headshots and your resume, number one; you need subway fare and pass fare- cause I live in New Jersey. And none of this is new to me, I’ve been living in New York City since I was eight, so, in terms of money and everything it isn’t new to me. But it’s getting going, basically. But what’s interesting is that nowadays a huge part of auditioning is just sending your resume and headshot via email and then “do they want to see you or not?”. After that, you get a callback email. So, basically I’ve been doing what I can. And I just got new headshots, which I’m really excited about, and now it’s just about making money so I can print them and mail them- do my “mailings”, basically. A lot of people have mixed feelings about mass hard-copy mailings but, listen, it’s something. Either they throw my headshot out or they don’t, but at least I know [they have it] and I can feel good about that.
Do you have anything to add?
Thank you very much, for this.